Shine Shine My Star

Chapter 2

Three days passed as the little train made its way to wherever it was going, the passage of time only marked by the position of the sun and sky from the window. They could feel the air become warmer during the day and humid at night as the flies buzzed in through the window, the steady click-clack of the wheels underneath them soothing in its familiarity. After the first day, the siblings kept quiet around the officers as they smoked, drank vodka and played cards, their guttural Russian interspersed with liberal curses that would make the air around them turn blue.

The train came to a stop as the siblings were jolted with alarm. "Grab your things and follow us, don't even think about running away", ordered the brown-eyed officer.

They grabbed their bags and followed them outside as the pitch-black darkness disoriented them. The dirt under their shoes was sandy they could see a large body of water ahead about a hundred yards away, the tiny railroad station just a crude wooden hut manned by a Kazakh man in a turban who smiled at them with gold teeth. "Get on the boat, the tide goes out soon", said the man.

The officers led them on board a wooden ark-like boat that creaked and swayed on its moorings. The siblings went below decks as the officers unmoored the boat just as the tide went out, the swaying of the boat just like that of the train. "Where do you think we are?", asked Alexei.

"Just a guess, but I think it's either the Caspian Sea or the Black Sea. I just hope this ends soon", said Olga with a sigh.

"What's near the Caspian Sea?" asked Anastasia.

"The Caucasus Mountains to the west and the Kazakh territory, they are related to Mongolians like the man at the station", replied Olga.

"I wish I had my pistol, I would rather die than be sold as a slave to some filthy Arab", said Tatiana as her gray eyes flashed with defiance.

"Same here, Tanya. But no matter what, we protect the younger ones. It's the least we can do for Mama and Papa", said Olga.

The following morning, the boat docked and they were ushered onshore to wear a trader's wagon waited. Next to the wagon was a very tall woman in a loose, flowing white robe, her reddish-gold hair done in a neat twist and covered with a turquoise blue headscarf as the man spoke to her in Arabic. "Are you a Circassian?", asked Olga as she tried to get a sense of where they were.

"No, but that is a good guess. Everything will be revealed soon", she replied in Russian, which was excellent except for a slight sing-song lilt.

They got in the wagon and the blond officer got up front to drive. The shore was rocky and fringed with palm trees as the sun was much hotter than in Siberia as the wagon lurched forward. "Can you tell us anything at all?" pleaded Maria to the red-haired woman.

She just laughed and her lovely blue-green eyes were full of mirth. "Patience, all will be revealed. I am Veteema Butler and you have nothing to fear", she said in British-accented English.

"You're British!", exclaimed Alexei.

"Not quite, my dad is American and my mum is Finnish and I was born in Australia. Everything will be revealed once we're in Tehran, I'm sorry if the journey was less than pleasant", said Veteema.

"That is putting it very mildly, Miss Butler. And how come you are here by yourself, that isn't proper", said Tatiana.

Veteema laughed. "I don't give a damn about propriety, Miss Romanova. In my line of work, propriety isn't worth a tinker's damn", she retorted.

"Are you a spy?", asked Anastasia with excitement in her voice.

"Of sorts, we gathered all our intelligence to find out where you were in Yekaterinburg. That and a lot of bribes, apparently the Revolution isn't big on pay days. It's bourgeois, you know", said Veteema with a dry chuckle.

Several hours later, they arrived at the outskirts of Tehran as the officers made them get out of the wagon. "Veteema, take them to the bathhouse while we go to the hotel", said the blond officer.

After having spent a year in Siberia and most of their life in the cocoon of Tsarkoe Selo, the hustle and bustle of the city opened their eyes. While the outskirts of the city had simple mud-brick and stone houses, the center of the city was dominated by enormous government buildings and mosques along wide streets lined with trees as they tried not to gape. The downtown reminded them of St. Petersburg from the few times they had been allowed to visit the city, the smartly dressed young people in the latest styles providing a contrast to the older people in their traditional caftans with the women in headscarves. "Civilization is a good thing", said Veteema with a smile.

"This is a bathhouse, one part is for women and another is for men. Just follow the other people and in the changing rooms, I'll pay for it and I'll join the girls", said Veteema.

The huge building was divided into two sections for men and women as Veteema paid for their session and told the male attendants to be careful with Alexei. "You change in here and wear a towel, just follow my lead", she said.

The girls were momentarily taken aback as the older woman undressed down to her knickers but they followed her lead and discarded their old clothes after seeing the brightly colored caftans inside the lockers. Veteema showed them how to wrap the towels around them and led them to the steam room and motioned for them to sit on a wooden bench. The other women in the room barely looked at them as the female attendants added water to the embers to create steam while others scrubbed down women with rough towels. At first the steam reminded them of the humidity inside the Ipatiev House but they gradually got used to it and they felt pleasantly drowsy as the attendants scrubbed them with towels. "Don't worry about it, you'll feel much better when we're done", said Veteema with a reassuring smile.

"You were right, Miss Butler", sighed Maria after they finished up in the cold room and went back to the locker room.

"Call me Veteema. And didn't you use a banya, I go to the sauna when I'm back in Finland", said Veteema.

"No, our Mama and Papa said it was only for men and not for women", said Tatiana.

"Strange. Listen, when we get back to the hotel and after we eat, everything will be explained", said Veteema.

The girls put on their caftans and combed their hair, Olga in pale pink, Tatiana in royal blue, Maria in lilac and Anastasia in sunny yellow while Veteema's was in the same turquoise as her blue eyes. "Do we have to wear headscarves?" asked Tatiana.

"Not really because you're not Muslim, but I would recommend it so you won't attract attention", she replied.

Veteema helped the girls put on the headscarves and led them to the main hall where Alexei waited, dressed in white baggy pants and a matching shirt. "I'm hungry", he declared.

"No worries, you will eat at the hotel", said Veteema kindly as she led them to the hotel just down the street. The modest three-story white-washed stucco building was cool inside as fans on the ceiling brought in a refreshing breeze along with the potted ferns around the reception area, enhanced by the elegant blue and green tiled floors depiction plants under a blue sky. The officers sat on a bench next to a big pot of ferns but they now wore the same sort of baggy white trousers and jackets Alexei wore which made them look far less sinister.

The blond man got up and smiled at them, the harshness of his face earlier replaced by the affable good nature of a country gentleman. "Terribly sorry about our manners before, but it was necessary for the act to work", he said in an upper-class British accent.

"You're English!" Olga exclaimed.

"Sort of, my Dad is Scottish. I am Ian Sutherland, MI6", he said.

"And I am Pierre Lacroix, I am a professor of Byzantine Studies at the University of Manchester", said the blue-eyed officer in a similar accent with a hint of a Lancashire drawl.

"I am Juan Torres, I own the Wagon Wheel in Manchester", said the brown-eyed man, his accent a curious blend of Manc and Spanish.

"Are we going to England?" asked Anastasia eagerly.

"Si, senorita. Within the next few days, we will take the train to Istanbul and then go on the train to London", said Juan.

Anastasia giggled. "I've never been called senorita before, just Nastya. Is that a rude word?" she demanded.

"No, it's what you call a pretty lady in Spanish", he drawled as she giggled and blushed like a child.

"Mr. Torres, how long is it from here to London?", asked Tatiana as she gave the younger girl a look.

"It's about two days from here to Istanbul, depending on the conditions and then another week to Paris, we change trains and go on another train to Calais and then take the ferry to England. We are going to do some shopping in Istanbul and you will have to rest first", he replied.

"I'm hungry", Alexei muttered.

"Of course, how thoughtless of us. Persian food is amazing, unfortunately one doesn't find it in Manchester", said Pierre with a sigh.

The group entered the hotel restaurant and Pierre ordered their food in fluent Arabic. "Arabic is a common second language throughout the Middle East, even if the official language here in Farsi. My line of study takes me here a lot, there are many Byzantine sites in Israel and throughout the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa", he said.

"You've been to Egypt?" asked Anastasia in disbelief.

"Yes, we both went after graduating uni. He goes more than I do, that's where he gets the research for his books", said Juan.

"You lot will only make the girls dizzy, let them eat and rest first", said Veteema.

"We don't mind, Veteema", said Maria as the waiter brought over their drinks, hot black tea for Anastasia and Alexei and wine for the others.

"Tastes like a good sherry, you do drink wine?" asked Ian.

"No, Mama and Papa said we were too young", said Olga.

"Just sip it slowly until the food arrives, otherwise you'll get sick", he said.

Tatiana took a sip of wine and faced them. "How come you didn't get Mama and Papa?" she asked.

"Miss, it would have been too dangerous. Your parents are too well-known and not in the best of health, the journey might have killed them. And there's no guarantee the King and Parliament would grant them asylum, knowing our spineless king and that daft Welshman Lloyd George, they would rather not have a war with the bloody Soviet state, pardon my language", replied Ian.

Tatiana could only nod as tears filled her eyes. "I hope and pray to God that the Bolsheviks don't kill them, but I will be prepared for any bad news", she whispered.

"I want to kill those sons of bitches", vowed Alexei.

"I agree, but the important thing is that you are out of Russian and you will soon be in England. We would have brought along your parents if we thought they could make it, make no mistake", said Pierre.

"Poor Mama and Papa! I hate those Bolsheviks, they were so mean!" exclaimed Maria.

Pierre smiled kindly at her and patted her hand. "Je se desole, mademoiselle", he said. He took out a set of rosary beads from inside his pocket and pressed it into her hand as the blue-green beads twinkled under the lights. "If you need to pray, you may borrow it", he said.

"Spasibo, Mr. Lacroix", she replied.

Maria glanced down and noticed he didn't have a wedding ring. "My wife died from complications due to eclampsia during the birth of our daughter", he explained.

"How awful!" she exclaimed.

"I know, Nicole kept me going or else I would have gone around the bend. Perhaps one day I will find a woman who could be a good mother to Nicole, but not many women want a single father", said Pierre.

"You will find a good woman someday, Mr. Lacroix", said Maria with a reassuring smile.

Everyone was feeling very good after dinner, the siblings full and satiated after the big meal as it was the best one they had in many months. "Excuse me ladies, do you mind?', asked Pierre as he took out a silver cigarette case with a black enamel Byzantine double-headed eagle and matching lighter.

"No", replied Olga.

Pierre opened the case and selected a cigarette as he lit the tip and took a drag. "May I have one, I haven't had one in days", said Tatiana.

"Of course, Miss. These are Woodbines, my normal brand is Regals but they're bloody hard to find outside of England", said Pierre.

Tatiana picked up a cigarette and he lit it for her as she took a drag. She gasped and her eyes watered from the strong smoke as she coughed and tried to catch her breath. "Woodbines are very strong and they cause that reaction when people smoke them. You'll get used to it", he said.

"I can't wait until I'm old enough to smoke", said Anastasia with a pout.

"Don't start, it's not good and they smell", said Veteema as the waiter came by with cups of mint tea.

"But Tanya smokes", she protested.

"She's a nurse and that is a stressful job, you're still a young girl. It's best not to start", said Veteema.

They finished their tea and cigarettes as the men paid their bill. "We will repay you for everything", said Olga.

"No worries", said Ian.

"I just want to thank you for everything you have done, Mr. Sutherland', said Olga.

"It's the honorable thing, Miss. And please call me Ian or Vanya, Ian is Scottish for John", he chuckled.

Olga giggled and a blush formed on her cheeks as she realized Ian was quite good-looking, tall and blond with brilliant emerald-green eyes. "Spasibo, but it would feel odd to call a British man Vanya", she said.

"No stranger than a half-German, half English Russian girl being named Olga", he teased.

The siblings were escorted upstairs to their rooms while the men and Veteema took the adjacent rooms. Two queen sized beds and a narrow futon waited for them as Olga looked inside the wardrobe to find four white cotton nightgowns and a set of blue pajamas for Alexei. Their brother grumbled good-naturedly as he went inside the walk-in closet to change while the girls put on their nightgowns. "We need to get these repaired", said Olga when she saw the grime underneath her corset.

"I hate these things, I'm never going to be slim so what's the point", muttered Anastasia.

"You are a lady so you must wear a corset, Nastya", chided Tatiana.

"You're thin and have a little waist, Tanya. I'm not", said Anastasia.

"It's puppy fat, remember I was the same way", said Maria as she placed her hands on either side of her waist while looking into the mirror.

"You will lose your puppy fat, Nastya. You have a pretty face and blue eyes and lovely dark blond hair, you will be very pretty soon", said Olga with a kind smile.

"I hope so, I hate being chubby", muttered Anastasia as she looked at herself in the mirror. She was the shortest of the sisters at 5'2 with a round face and pudgy body with puppy fat, her dark blond hair shining with red highlights and her eyes the cornflower blue of the Romanovs.

"Olga is right, you will be a lovely girl one day", said Tatiana.

Alexei emerged from the closet wearing the blue pajamas. "Then I'll have to fight off the boys, Nastenka. That's my duty", he said.

"No longer, Alexei Nicholovich. Tanya and I are old enough to find husbands and perhaps Maria as well", said Olga.

"I don't want my sisters to get hurt, Olya. I'm the man of the family now", said Alexei with a sigh.

Olga put a hand on his shoulder and Anastasia hugged him. "When we get to England, you will no longer be the czarevitch, Lyosha. You are just going to be Alexei, we will all be normal people", said Tatiana with a wistful smile.

"It cannot be any worse or crazy than the last year. I hope we will never have this much excitement again", said Alexei.

Ian saw the dark-haired man in the plain black suit sitting in the lobby and walked over to shake his hand. "We must do this now that they are asleep, the others are in the room?" asked the man.

"Yes, follow me", replied Ian. He led them to the elevator and up to the third floor towards their room as he opened the door, the others still wide awake.

"Hugo, glad you could make it. They are asleep next door and the trip from Russia was a success", said Pierre.

"Good. We need to do this quickly before they wake up", said Hugo Letang.

The others each took a ring from their pockets and placed them on their ring finger on the right hand, Ian's having a green stone, Pierre's purplish-blue, Juan's amber and Veteema's blue-green. Hugo's own ring was heavy and gold with an opaque gray-black stone with the feel of heavy glass and the texture of an opal, tiny white swirls of light flitting about the surface like a wobbly comet.

"We will explain everything tomorrow; they will have to accept it. It's a bloody shame we could rescue their parents but it would have been too conspicuous and neither was in the best of health", sighed Pierre.

"It's not your fault; the siblings are going to be safe thanks to you. It's a shame I have to leave soon, but if we were to send them to England in addition it would be too disorienting for them", said Hugo.

Veteema nodded as she left the room to make sure the corridor was clear before she motioned for them to follow as the men carried their suitcases. She picked the lock with a hairpin and led them inside and they quietly closed the door behind them. The siblings were fast asleep with Olga and Tatiana sharing one bed while Maria and Anastasia shared another and Alexei slept on the futon as the five people made a circle around them. "Megi godin blessa okkur og halda okkur fra skada, getum vio nao arangi og blessa guoi", Hugo intoned as the room was filled with a dazzling white light that enveloped everyone before they disappeared and everything faded to blackā€¦